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Exploring Gold Mining History in Cripple Creek Colorado

It was gold that lured farmers to Colorado, and it is gold that lures tourists to this not easily reached former boom town. In fact, it's gold, in another form that turned Cripple Creek from ghost town to gaming town.

Cripple Creek Goes Gold

The story starts in the 1890s when gold was discovered on the western slope of Pikes Peak. On October 20, 1890, however, Robert Miller "Bob" Womack discovered a rich ore and the last great Colorado gold rush was on, centered right in Cripple Creek area. Cripple Creek was also the site of one of the richest gold strikes in American history, the Independence found by W. S. Stratton.

Almost overnight, the Cripple Creek Mining District grew from an isolated cattle pasture to an area of over 500 mines and a thriving town of an estimated population of 10,000, and produced an estimated $400,000,000 in gold.

Heritage Center

Start your visit at the heritage center offering not only 360 degree views of the valley, but well-done exhibits on Cripple Creek’s colorful history.

Yes, There's Gold

In fact, there's gold and a woman. It's the story of the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine, staked by Mollie Gortner. The story goes that one fateful day in 1891, Mollie sat on a large rock, spotted an interesting formation, broke off a piece of that interesting outcropping and ... struck gold.

The Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine tour puts you in an actual miners elevator (think open sided tiny cage) down over 1,000 feet into a vertical-shaft gold mine. The family-owned mine no longer has workers toiling beneath the ground, but tourists get an excellent introduction to gold mining and its technological advances. As you walk through the original tunnels, the guide demonstrates the techniques that had been used at different point in time to extract the precious metal, and points out actual veins of gold still there for the tapping. The one hour tour also gave a history of gold in Cripple Creek and the perils of working underground. And you walk out with a bit of gold-containing ore.

In the summer, tours are also available at the Cresson Mine which is a large scale surface gold mining operation.

The Cresson Mine is also famous for the Cresson Vug, a cavity in the rock, lined with crystals somewhat like a geode, discovered in 1914. Only the Cresson Vug was the size of a room, and it was filled with gold. Literally, the wall were lined with it. According to reports, the Cresson vug produced anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 ounces of gold.

There is still plenty of gold ore left in the mines and with the cost of gold rising, it isn't the economics of bringing it out of the ground, it's the processing mills that have either closed or become antiquated.

Exploring Cripple Creek

Fires in the late 1880s destroyed most the town's wood buildings and resulted in the requirement that all new buildings be constructed of brick. As a result, these sturdy constructions still line Bennett Avenue, the town’s main street.

You'll find gaming galore in casinos inside restored historic buildings, keeping the character intact. In fact, as I strolled up and down Bennett Avenue I thought - the casinos and gambling establishments might indeed be closer to the history of the town than the tourist shops found in so many other old mining towns.

Another summer-only attraction is the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad, highlighting the gold mining history and ghost towns of the area.

The Cripple Creek District Museum is housed in one of the city's most historic buildings, the brick 1893 Colorado Trading & Transfer Building, the 1895 Midland Terminal Railroad Depot and the turn-of-the-century Assay Office. Take the self-guided tour which includes two historic and furnished cabins. Then see an intact jail cell at the Jail Museum. There’s even a bordello museum, because what’s a gold rush town without a bordello? The Old Homestead Parlour House Museum on Myers Avenue, part of the once-upon-a-time bawdy district. It was built by the town’s favorite madam, Pearl DeVere.

All respectable mining towns had a theater, and Cripple Creek is no exception. The Butte Opera House is currently the home of the Thin Air Theatre Company that produces shows year-round.
If you Go
Lodging in Cripple Creek is easy - the town has plenty of casino hotels but there’s also luxury lodging in a former high school. Similarly, dining options abound in the casinos that line Bennett Avenue.

Both Cripple Creek and Victor offer a summer filled with events, but perhaps the more offbeat is the Donkey Derby Days that take place the end of June in Cripple Creek.

For more information: Visit Cripple Creek
For a complete history of the area visit Cripple Creek and Victor gold mining

© 2011